Coslet draws upon skills as play-caller

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ST. LOUIS - Bruce Coslet is a kid with a new box of crayons. He has all the colors in the rainbow but only so much canvas. Drawing plays for the Cincinnati Bengals is a job that requires a man to ration his resources.

''We don't have enough footballs for what we're going to do this year,'' Coslet said. ''That's for sure.''

Consider the possibilities for a moment and you start salivating for Sundays: Carl Pickens on the quick slant; Ki-Jana Carter cutting off tackle; Darnay Scott streaking down the sideline; Garrison Hearst turning the corner on a sweep; Jeff Blake poised in the pocket or improvising on the run.

The Bengals have more wonderful weapons than a James Bond Film Festival. They ought to be fun.

Fun is not the goal here, of course. Pro football is serious business, particularly when the head coach is in the last year of his contract. If Dave Shula (18-46) does not win now, he will leave Bengals General Manager Mike Brown little choice but to look elsewhere for leadership.

The time for rationalizing is over. Now the Bengals need results.

''This team is like the sapling you put out in your yard,'' Brown told a luncheon crowd Friday afternoon. ''At first, it's not much to look at. But just as a sapling grows, ring by ring, year by year, this team has grown. We are now a substantial team - experienced enough and confident enough to win most of the time.''

By Brown's understated standards, this amounted to a boast. Shula then stepped to the microphone and spoke publicly of playoffs, of ''an opportunity for a Super Bowl.'' This, too, was decidedly out of character for the cautious coach. Normally Dave Shula doesn't let himself get pinned down on what day it is, much less what he'll be doing in December.

Bengals full of bravado

Public pronouncements are one thing, of course, and private convictions another. The main difference in the Bengals' mindset this fall is that beneath their bravado is belief. They have finally found their way to a place called hope.

Much of this stems from the gains made in the running game since last year. Carter missed the 1995 season with a catastrophic knee injury. Hearst was then an Arizona Cardinal. Even though they will be operating behind a callow offensive line, one of the two backs is bound to become the first Bengal to run for 100 yards in a game since 1992. Together they comprise Cincinnati's most promising ground attack since Super Bowl XXIII.

Obvious though it is, the significance of this can hardly be overstated. Those teams that fail to run the football in the National Football League are little noted nor long remembered. They might put big numbers on the board, but they are less reliable at protecting a lead or prevailing in bad weather. They don't keep their defense off the field enough to win consistently. They are a box of bright crayons with no primary colors.

That's how the Bengals have been lately - more entertaining than effective. The overriding theme has been Blake To Pickens And Pray. Now there are more choices on the menu, and each of them is appetizing.

Blake triggers potent offense

''Blake's been talking about how we're going to be the No. 1 offense,'' said Joe Walter, the offensive tackle. ''When it comes from the quarterback, that's exciting.

''I think he (Blake) is more confident. He went to the Pro Bowl, and I think that helped him. And you don't have that (David) Klingler situation hanging over him anymore.''

If Klingler caused Jeff Blake any anxiety, it is more than he ever did to NFL defenses. If Blake is any more confident that he was last year, he would be Rush Limbaugh.

Presumably, it will not be Blake's ego that will need massaging. It is the quarterback's privilege to touch the ball on every play. Bruce Coslet's position is that the other players on offense should be prepared to wait.

''Stay the hell out of my office if you want more carries,'' Coslet told his running backs Friday. ''Everybody will get their chance.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Sept. 1, 1996.